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Asaba Memorial Day 2011

October 8, 2011

From Liz Bird:

Forty four years ago, on October 7, 1967, hundreds of men, women, and children were summoned from their homes in the five quarters of Asaba, to parade through the town and issue an official speech of welcome to the occupying federal forces. It was not a joyful occasion, but rather a desperate effort to put an end to the violence that had claimed many lives in the previous two days.

Chanting “One Nigeria,” and wearing akwa ocha, the white woven cloth worn for ceremonial occasions, the crowds moved down Nnebisi Road, Asaba’s main street, led by prominent elders. As we describe elsewhere on the blog, the parade ended in tragedy, with the brutal deaths of up to 800 men and boys at the hands of the federal forces.

Model of the Asaba Memorial Monument, being built under the direction of the Asaba Development Union at the Ogbe-osawa site. The monument is currently about one third completed.

Last year, the community, under the leadership of the Asaba Development Union, formally commemorated the massacre with a service and procession, and this year we were invited to attend the second Asaba Memorial event. The day began with a prayer service under awnings set up at Ogbe-Osawa, the site of the largest killing and unmarked mass grave. We were honored to wear akwa ocha shawls, gifts from our friends Ify Uraih and his sister, Victoria Nwanze.

The day began with a welcome from Chief Louis Odogwu, the President General of the ADU, and continued with invocations, prayers, and hymns from a choir of young people. Father Patrick Isichei, a well-known scholar and Catholic priest, gave a moving address; it began with an account of how all his male cousins and uncles were killed by soldiers while attending the funeral of another relative on the day the troops arrived. Many more of his relations died soon after. As he said, “Asaba people suffered so senselessly and are still finding it difficult to make sense of it,” and yet it is important to honor and remember the dead. Father Isichei concluded that there is no better way to do this “than to free our hearts of all bitterness and hostility” and think toward the future of the next generation.

 As the service concluded, we all assembled to retrace the parade from 44 years ago, carrying lighted candles and heading back along Nnebisi Road.

The parade leaders set off from Ogbe-Osawa

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